In the September garden, everything is on hand. The earliest apples sweeten in crisp morning mist. The tomatoes gleam, naive. Sweet winter squashes and pumpkins ripen. Zucchinis, zuchettas, yellow crookneck, and all their cousins bulge. Zinnias bloom rainbows for an audience of butterflies.
Sweater weather has begun. Kale and collards rejoice. Broccoli and cauliflower are back in season. Pears invite cardamom-spiced cakes, crumbles, and pies.
There is so much sweetness at the edge of autumn, and the September garden brings an unrivaled decadence to everything-from-the-garden fare, an exuberant joy in recipes with infinite permutation.
In this season of fullness, nothing says love to me like hearty minestra or butternut squash lasagna. My nanna’s version of everything-from-the-garden minestra (soup) was thick and bright, sweet with banana squash and onion, streaked red by tomato, creamy with cauliflower, complete with birds-tongue pasta and sometimes beans. I loaded it with Kraft Parmesan and greedily ate thirds.
When I craved her minestra as an adult, I turned to the garden and farmers market for inspiration. I’ve never actually used a measured recipe, so the recipes below are not just forgiving—they invite play with proportion.
- 2–3 cups diced sweet orange veggies: butternut, pumpkin, sweet potato
- 1 cup dark greens, such as chard, kale, collards, cut in thin ribbons
- 1 cup diced cauliflower
- ½ cup legumes, such as white beans,
- French lentils, mung dal, red lentils (soaked overnight, if necessary)
- 1 large onion, or small bunch of shallots, diced
- 1 handful of fresh herbs such as oregano, Greek basil, Genovese basil, sage, etc.
- 1 large tomato, chopped, or 1 handful of cherry tomatoes
- Fresh minced garlic, 1-5 cloves (did I mention my Nanna lived in Gilroy, California, the garlic capital of the world?)
- Salt & pepper to taste
- Olive oil (ideally, Pickle Creek Greek Oregano & Garlic oil)
Heat olive oil in a pan and saute onion and garlic.
Rinse beans and add to onion mixture. Add 6 cups water and set on high to bring mixture to a boil.
Add squash and any other orange veggies that you’re using. When water boils, reduce to simmer. Add cauliflower and greens. Slice tougher herbs (e.g., oregano and sage) into thin shreds and add.
Toss in tomatoes. Simmer until legumes are done and veggies are soft.
Mince delicate herbs (e.g., basil) and stir in just before serving.
Lasagna-Inspired Garden Bakes
Long days with cooler temperatures make these saucy veggie bakes especially satisfying in September. With all the flavors available in the autumn garden and at our farmers markets, the possibilities are endless.
In my opinion, thin slices of zucchini or eggplant outdo traditional pasta in red-sauce lasagnas. For a butternut squash filling, I prefer traditional wheat pasta.
Combo 1: Starring Greens & Zucchini
ZUCCHINI NOODLES: A few hours before baking, slice 2–3 large zucchini into thin strips, about ⅛–¼” thick. Lightly salt and place on paper towels to dry. Before layering in dish, brush strips with olive oil, salt, and pepper.
- 1–2 pounds minced greens
- Thinly sliced garlic or shallots
- 1–1½ quarts ricotta
- 2 large eggs
- Olive oil
- Greek basil or regular basil
- 1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
- Halved cherry tomatoes (optional)
Preheat oven to 350° F.
PREPARE THE FILLING: Sauté garlic or shallots in olive oil. Add minced greens and sauté briefly to soften. Allow greens to cool before mixing with ricotta and eggs.
ASSEMBLE THE DISH: Grease 9×13″ baking dish or several small baking dishes.
Starting with a zucchini layer at the bottom, add half the filling on top. Repeat with zucchini and filling, adding cherry tomatoes, if using.
Cover and bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, increase oven temperature to 375°, and bake for 10–15 minutes more, or until dish is bubbly and golden.
Combo 2: Starring Butternut Squash
Butternut squash lasagna is richer and creamier than dessert. But don’t worry, it’s high in natural fiber—that makes it healthy, right?
- 1 package no-boil lasagna noodles
- 4 cups cooked butternut squash, puréed or mashed
- ¼ cup butter
- 1/ 3 cup all-purpose flour
- 4 cups whole milk
- Pinch of nutmeg
- Assorted sautéed, cubed veggies with mellow, slightly sweet flavors, such as cauliflower, carrots, summer squash (optional)
- 2 ½ cups mozzarella, sliced or shredded
Preheat oven to 350° F.
Grease a 9×13″ baking dish or several small baking dishes.
PREPARE WHITE SAUCE: Melt the butter over medium heat. Add flour and whisk for about 1 minute. Then slowly whisk in the milk. Bring to a low boil over medium-high heat. Reduce to medium and simmer until the sauce thickens, whisking often, about 5 minutes. Add the nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste.
ASSEMBLE THE DISH: Spread a layer of white sauce in the bottom of the dish, using about 3/4 cup. Add a layer of noodles. Cover with half the pureed squash, add cubed veggies (if using), then sprinkle with ½ cup mozarella. Cover with a thin layer of white sauce, about ½ cup. (Or alternate between layers of butternut squash and layers of veggies.) Repeat these layers, finishing with noodles covered by remaining white sauce.
Tightly cover and bake for 30 minutes. Remove cover and add remaining mozerella. Increase oven temperature to 375° and bake for another 10–15 minutes, or until bubbly and golden.
Let lasagna sit for at least 15 minutes before serving.
Combo 3: Starring the Nightshades
EGGPLANT NOODLES: A few hours before baking, slice 3–4 large eggplant into thin strips, about ¼” thick. Lightly salt and place on paper towels to dry. Before layering in dish, brush with olive oil, salt, and pepper.
- 5–8 medium tomatoes, chopped
- 2 red peppers, chopped
- 1 onion, diced
- 1 Tbsp. fresh oregano, chopped
- Olive oil
- 1½–2 cups Provolone, shredded or sliced
- ½ cup Parmesan, grated (optional)
PREPARE THE FILLING: Heat olive oil in a skillet. Add tomatoes, peppers, onion, and oregano, and simmer until thickened. (Or use homemade tomato sauce instead, simmered until thick.)
Preheat oven to 350 F.
ASSEMBLE THE DISH: Grease a 9×13″ baking dish or several small baking dishes.
Arrange an eggplant layer at the bottom of the dish, then add half the tomato filling or tomato sauce. Top with Provolone. Repeat with eggplant noodles and remaining filling. Finish with a final layer of eggplant.
Cover and bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven, add remaining Provolone and grated Parmesan, if using. Increase oven temperature to 375° and bake for 10–15 minutes more, or until bubbly and golden.